Tuesday, January 03, 2006

A Writers Life

Joan is talking about taking writing classes:
It's a Creative Writing class. And while typically, I think those classes do more damage than good for aspiring writers, this one is taught by an actual writer...not just someone who couldn't get published and decided to teach instead. Combine that with the fact that it was pointed out to me, by someone I actually respect, that I seriously need to work on tenses in my writing, and I really think the class would be good for me.
Writing classes would be good for me too. Or as well. Or whatever. I'm an engineer so I haven't seen the inside of an English classroom since I was a college Freshman. I didn't do especially well. The problem with creative writing classes at Delaware was that you had to be a good writer just to get into them. The minimum class size was 15 or so, but then the instructor would cut another 5-10 in the first few weeks until only the cream was left. In short, I'd never have made the cut.

One note though, a lot of actual writers also teach. Very few writers have the luxury of just writing for a living. Most of them have to have an additional job to pay their bills. Teaching is very popular for this, but a coworker's wife is a housewife/novelist. Neil Stephenson once told this anecdote::
I went to a writers' conference. I was making chitchat with another writer, a critically acclaimed literary novelist who taught at a university. She had never heard of me. After we'd exchanged a bit of of small talk, she asked me "And where do you teach?"

I was taken aback. "I don't teach anywhere," I said.

Her turn to be taken aback. "Then what do you do?"

"I'm...a writer," I said. Which admittedly was a stupid thing to say, since she already knew that.

"Yes, but what do you do?"


Because she'd never heard of me, she made the quite reasonable assumption that I was so new or obscure that she'd never seen me mentioned in a journal of literary criticism, and never bumped into me at a conference. Therefore, I couldn't be making any money at it. Therefore, I was most likely teaching somewhere. All perfectly logical. In order to set her straight, I had to let her know that the reason she'd never heard of me was because I was famous.
He goes on to explain that there are two kinds of writers, those that can make money through it and those who can't and survive on literary criticism. Those who can't are far more common, but neither is especially superior to the other because most commercial writers make money by no fault of their own.

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